Back to School Andreas Oberg Harnesses the Hypnotic Harmonies of the Whole-Tone Scale

June 15, 2011
<p><img style="width: 250px; height: 352px; float: left; margin-right: 5px; margin-left: 5px;" src="/Portals/0/gp0611_less_GIT_AO1_nr.jpg" alt="img" /><strong>TO MOST ROCK GUITARISTS, THE</strong> whole-tone scale remains an enigma&mdash;a perfectly symmetrical pattern of pitches that is simple to visualize on the fretboard, yet tricky to use on the bandstand. That pattern&mdash; which evenly slices the octave into six whole-steps&mdash;may seem perfectly uniform to the eyes, but can sound alien to the ears.</p> <p><a href="http://www.guitarplayer.com/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx1.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="img" src="/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx1.jpg" style="float: left; margin-right: 5px; margin-left: 5px; width: 125px; height: 34px;" /></a>If you&rsquo;ve never played the whole-tone scale, you&rsquo;ll find generating it is as easy as choosing a string and playing every other note. Do this, and it should be obvious that there exist exactly two whole-tone scales: one on the even frets, the other on the odd ones, as shown in <strong>Ex. 1</strong>. The first pattern hits one half of the notes in Western music; the second hits the other half.</p> <p><a target="_blank" href="http://www.guitarplayer.com/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx2.jpg"><img style="float: left; margin-right: 5px; margin-left: 5px; width: 125px; height: 27px;" src="/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx2.jpg" alt="img" /></a>It is the whole-tone <em>sound </em>that remains open to interpretation. Even while complete grid fingerings for the scale are simple to discern (<strong>Ex. 2</strong>), the dreamy harmonies delivered by them can be difficult to employ. Perhaps we need to call in an expert to help us manage this mysterious melodic material.</p> <p>Enter Sweden&rsquo;s versatile jazz export, Andreas Oberg.</p> <p><a href="http://www.guitarplayer.com/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx3,4.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="img" src="/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx3,4.jpg" style="float: left; margin-right: 5px; margin-left: 5px; width: 125px; height: 37px;" /></a>&ldquo;The whole-tone scale is typically played over dominant 7 chords,&rdquo; says Oberg to a roomful of students during one of his regular counseling sessions at Musicians Institute. He&rsquo;s referring to altered lines such as <strong>Ex. 3</strong>, which uses the whole-tone scale to resolve from <em>A7#5</em> to <em>Dm</em>.</p> <p>&ldquo;What I want to show you, though, is a cool way to use the scale over <em>minor </em>chords,&rdquo; says Oberg. &ldquo;For instance, let&rsquo;s vamp on a <em>Cm </em>groove. With <em>Cm </em>as our background chord, we&rsquo;re going to start the scale one fret below the root [<strong>Ex. 4</strong>].&rdquo;</p> <p>Experiment with this approach, noticing that the scale skips the root (<em>C</em>)&mdash;we can leave the tonic to the bass player&mdash; and makes things interesting by hitting the major 7 (<em>B</em>) and the minor 3 (<em>Eb</em>) of <em>C</em>, which projects an intriguing &ldquo;minor/ major7&rdquo; flavor.</p> <p><a target="_blank" href="http://www.guitarplayer.com/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx5.jpg"><img height="50" width="125" style="float: left; margin-right: 5px; margin-left: 5px;" src="/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx5.jpg" alt="img" /></a>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s very cool for getting so-called <em>outside </em>sounds over a minor vamp, because there are all these useful structures you can pull out of the scale,&rdquo; says Oberg. He&rsquo;s talking about shapes such as the augmented <em>Eb</em>-<em>G</em>-<em>B </em>triad triplet that opens <strong>Ex. 5</strong>. This cluster gets shifted up a whole-step with each new beat. &ldquo;You can even move it to the next string set [beat four of bar 1]. And, of course, find other shapes and move them around as well [<strong>Ex. 6</strong>].&rdquo;</p> <p><a href="http://www.guitarplayer.com/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx6,7.jpg" target="_blank"><img alt="img" src="/Portals/0/GP6.11JudeEx6,7.jpg" style="width: 125px; height: 33px; float: left; margin-right: 5px; margin-left: 5px;" /></a>Once you have some whole-tone structures under your fingers and can bounce them around the fretboard in whole-steps, be sure to &ldquo;find ways to connect the shapes with chromatic passing tones,&rdquo; says Oberg. &ldquo;And, last but not least, be sure you can play a complete augmented arpeggio [<strong>Ex. 7</strong>], and can bounce that around in whole-steps.&rdquo;</p> <p><em>Jude Gold is </em>GP<em>&rsquo;s Los Angeles editor and Director of GIT, the Guitar Program at Musicians Institute. Comments? Email him at <a class="ApplyClass" href="mailto:jgold@mi.edu">jgold@mi.edu</a>.</em></p>
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